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God’s City: ‘Civic Humanism’ and the Self-Construction of the Ecclesia in Late Fifteenth- and Early Sixteenth-Century England

Rundle, David (2021) God’s City: ‘Civic Humanism’ and the Self-Construction of the Ecclesia in Late Fifteenth- and Early Sixteenth-Century England. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 84 (1). pp. 97-121. ISSN 0075-4390. (doi:10.1086/JWCI84010097) (KAR id:89859)


This article considers one element within the long tradition of the church’s self-identification as a city. It focusses on England, c. 1450 to c. 1510, and considers how the civic rhetoric developed by Italian humanists, pre-eminently Leonardo Bruni, was refracted through an ecclesiastical lens and so appropriated for English clerical use. It describes how two useful elements were quarried from recent writings imported from Italy: the first was the emphasis on the city and its buildings as a locus of virtue, the second was that, because of its virtue, that city was under attack. The discussion begins with the time of social unrest in the mid-fifteenth century, in the wake of which Thomas Chaundler wrote his praise of Thomas Bekynton, bishop of Bath and Wells, and his building works in his episcopal city. It ends in the first years of the sixteenth century with the relations between Christopher Urswick, dean of Windsor and Thomas Goldstone, prior of Christ Church, Canterbury. Their re-use of older texts, specifically the Speculum regis Edwardi III, which they assumed to be by Archbishop Simon Islip, and more recent humanist ones, by Celso Maffei and Goldstone’s predecessor as prior, William Sellyng, identified other enemies who attacked the church: invoking the name of Thomas Becket, they saw those oppressing them to be not rebels against authority but those in authority. This allows us to reflect on how a few English readers of humanist civic rhetoric found in it potentially radical force.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1086/JWCI84010097
Uncontrolled keywords: Humanism, civic humanism, Canterbury, Christ Church Priory Canterbury, Thomas Chaundler, Thomas Bekynton, Christopher Urswick, Thomas Goldstone, Simon Islip, humanist script, Pieter Meghen, Wells Cathedral, Latin
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > DG Italy
N Visual Arts > NA Architecture
N Visual Arts > NC Drawing. Design. Illustration
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN441 Literary History
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: David Rundle
Date Deposited: 20 Aug 2021 10:33 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2022 16:15 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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